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Friction Tuned Away On the Nanoscale


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Friction is everywhere and while it can be frustrating, it is also very useful and impossible to live without. There are instances though, when it seems to disappear as the phenomenon, superlubricity appears. Now researchers at MIT have finally studied friction at the nanoscale, including the emergence of superlubricity, which could have a significant impact on nanomachines.

Typically whenever two surfaces contact each other, there is friction between them, but there are times friction vanishes. To study this, the researchers created two nanoscale 'surfaces.' One is an optical lattice created by two lasers that interfere with each other to create a sinusoidal periodic pattern (a bunch of peaks and troughs). The other 'surface' is an ion crystal of sorts, produced by optically trapping a number of ions that repel each other, creating a kind of crystal structure. When the researchers ran the ions over the optical lattice, they found maximum friction when the distance between the ions matched the wavelength of the lattice. If the distance was mismatched though, superlubricity appeared. Instead of jarring, sudden movements like before, with superlubricity the ions slid up and down the optical lattice smoothly, like how a caterpillar moves.

Potentially this research could be used to design nanomachines that last long, by reducing the friction they suffer. It could also be extended up to the macroscale, to help provide a better understanding of friction on every level.



Source: MIT

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